When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, pressed the button last weekend and water started surging out of the US$290 million (S$390 million) Salma Dam in Afghanistan’s Herat province, profoundly symbolic was the joint inauguration of an infrastructure project in a beleaguered country.
From the diplomatic prism, the Indian leader has reinforced ties with a SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) member-nation... and with a resonant message to Pakistan.
Implicit in the inaugural was the signal that India and Afghanistan, where development has been in a shambles for as long as it has, will be partners in progress.
“India will not forget you or turn away,” was the Prime Minister’s reassuring message to Afghanistan.
“Your friendship is our honour; your dreams are our duty.”
Not that Islamabad’s geo-strategy, indeed to counter India’s involvement across the Af-Pak frontier, can be readily discounted; but Saturday’s (June 5) opening of the Salma Dam has served to reaffirm Indo-Afghan ties at a critical juncture.
It can well be contextualised with the planned collaboration with Iran to develop Chabahar port in the Gulf as an entry-point for overland transit to Afghanistan and thence to Central Asia... bypassing Pakistan.
The last provision of the agreement, concluded recently in Teheran, is pivotal in the overall construct as Pakistan did try to exploit its geographical location to its advantage.
Unmistakable is the forward movement - almost in quick succession - in a remarkable instance of trilateral cooperation, with India, Iran and Afghanistan emitting a concerted signal to Pakistan.
The Salma Dam, one of the infrastructure projects that were undertaken after the Taleban regime met its eclipse in 2001, is expected to help Afghanistan exploit the opportunities that will come its way once the Chabahar port, linking the dock in Iran to Central Asia’s road and railway networks, is completed.
Besides, the dam will provide 42 MW of power to Afghanistan’s industrial hub in Herat.
Water from the dam will also irrigate a region that has been suffering the withering effects of drought.
On closer reflection, both nature and fundamentalist fury have wrought havoc to the country, not to forget the political turmoil and tribal disaffection.
The importance of the Salma Dam is considerable for a country whose development paradigm has been devastated through the long years of conflict within.
Significant too is the location of the project; Herat is believed to be the nerve-centre of the ISI-backed terrorists, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The Prime Minister was profuse in his admiration for Afghanistan’s security services and the protection of Indians at the site: "They put themselves in the line of fire so that their Indian friends are safe. This is the nobility of your heart and the strength of your friendship.”
Salma Dam will stand as an abiding testament to the warmth of India-Afghanistan ties.
The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.